Nerves of Steel (Part 2)
A Whateley Academy Story
Nerves of Steel
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Thursday late morning, Sept 20th, 2007
I walked down the sidewalk at a pretty fast pace, not because I was in any particular hurry, but simply because I wanted to. Being able to walk or run, for no other reason than because I wanted to, was still exciting. In fact, I probably would have run down the sidewalk, if it wasn’t for the fact that people would stare. Even so, I was pretty tempted to break out running anyway.
Last night, I’d slept in the motel room that Falkner had arranged for me. It had been small, uncomfortable, and kind of noisy, but that didn’t matter, because today was going to be fun. I’d hang around with Glow, get a tour of the Liberty League’s headquarters, and hopefully, get Falkner enough information about them, so that he could buy himself more time.
A minute later, I reached my destination, or at least, I was close enough to see it. I came to an abrupt stop and just stared with my mouth open.
“No way…,” I gasped.
In the parking lot where I was supposed to meet up with Glow, there was strange looking machine, that looked like a cross between a helicopter and a jet…if it had been designed by Jules Verne. The thing looked like it was mostly made of bronze, and it had three helicopter rotors on top. I was so amazed by the machine, that it took me a few more seconds to realize that there were people standing in front of it, looking at me.
“Hola,” I called out to Glow, who wasn’t bothering to hide her hair or eyes.
Twist stood right next to Glow, and she was dressed up in her costume. She gave me a friendly wave as I approached. A short distance away, the Bronze Lady was busy talking to the tallest woman I’d never seen. She was nearly seven feet tall, and was dressed in normal clothes rather than any form of costume.
“I’m glad you could make it,” Twist said.
“Me too,” I responded with a grin. Then I looked around before asking, “Is Dinah coming?”
“She’s in school,” Glow told me, looking just a little smug. “I’m homeschooled now, so my schedule is a little more flexible.”
“Well, don’t expect this to be a day off,” Twist told Glow with an amused look. “You’ve got some work to do once we get to the island.”
Glow let out a sigh. “Yeah, I remember.” Then, she gestured to the towering woman, and said, “This is my mom.”
I just stared up at the huge woman, saying, “Wow, she’s tall.”
At that, Glow’s mom turned her attention to me and gave me an amused smile. “It’s part of my power,” she commented.
“This is Nina,” Glow told her mom.”
“So, you’re Rachael’s little friend,” Glow’s mom said with a smile. “I heard about what you did yesterday.”
Before I could say anything in response, the Bronze Lady said, “Everybody, please board the trithoptor.” I guessed that was the big helicopter jet thing.
“Is this thing safe?” I asked as I went aboard the trithoptor and found seat. The thing looked so unbelievable that it reminded me a bit of an amusement park ride.
Once I was seatbelted in, I looked to Glow’s mom, thinking that this was going to be a tight fit. But to my surprise, she seemed to shrink a little bit while she was putting her own seatbelt on. I was pretty sure that she was at least half a foot shorter than she’d been a few minutes ago, though it was hard to tell since she was now sitting.
Before I knew it, the machine took off and we began raising up into the air. I stared at the window, watching the ground get further and further away, and still being amazed by the fact that this thing really could fly.
“Pretty weird, isn’t it?” Glow asked me, gesturing around us. “El…the Bronze Lady really likes this steampunk style, but she’s pretty good at what she does. Most of her stuff works really well.”
“Most of it?” I asked, not feeling much better.
Glow just smirked. “Actually, Dinah has been trying to talk the Bronze Lady into teaching her how to fly it.”
“Not until she turns sixteen,” Glow’s mom said, with the same note of finality that my dad used to use when he announced that I wouldn’t be allowed to date until I was sixteen.
Suddenly, I realized that I was sixteen, which meant, that I was now allowed to date. For a long time, that hadn’t been an option for me, but now, thanks to Falkner, it was again. I grinned like an idiot for the rest of the ride.
I stared out the window as we flew over Lake Michigan, and after half an hour, we came to an island. From the air, it looked like it was shaped like a rectangle, which seemed pretty weird to me, until Glow told me that the whole island was actually some kind of big barge. Then, we landed, with the Bronze Lady setting the trithoptor down on a landing pad, right next to another one just like it.
“Welcome to Liberty Island,” the Bronze Lady said, giving me a welcoming smile.
“Enter freely and of your own will,” Twist added with a smirk.
After this, we went inside the building, which was the only one on this island. This was the headquarters, or at least, the entrance to the headquarters, which was mostly ‘underground’. It was a little weird, but exciting too. I nearly let out a ‘squee’ of delight, at actually being inside a real superhero headquarters. This was way better than sitting on the couch and watching TV for the entire day.
The Bronze Lady led the way through the building, until we ended up in a room where the rest of the Liberty League members were gathered. The room looked comfortable, with couches and recliners, so the place definitely came off more like a living room and less like some kind of formal briefing room. I guessed that this was where they hung out, when they weren’t off doing superhero stuff.
As soon as we entered, the Bronze Lady went straight to the Gentleman and gave him a brief kiss. Adonis, who was sitting back in a recliner with a drink in his hand, gave us a brief glance before returning his attention to the magazine in his other hand.
Force Majeure was standing up and talking with a beautiful and busty blonde woman, who was wearing a blue and white costume, with a blue domino mask and a star symbol on her chest. Though I hadn’t seen this woman before, I knew that this had to be Super Star. Falkner had told me that she was a member of the team, and a couple of the others had mentioned her in the hospital.
“Pinball is up to something,” Super Star told Force Majeure, raising her voice a little more than was necessary. She scowled, looking angry. “I think she’s working with Torment. And she even has a new minion, which looks like a possible clone…”
“We’ll talk about Pinball later,” Force Majeure told the woman, before turning his attention towards us. “Ginormous,” he said, looking at Glow’s mom. “So, when are you coming back to work?”
My eyes went wide and I stared at the tall woman. Glow had told me her mom used to be a hero, but I hadn’t known which hero she was, until now. Now, I knew she was Ginormous, not that this did me any good. I’d never even heard of Ginormous until that very minute.
“You know I’m out of costume,” the tall woman said with a smile. “You can call me Sarah.”
“I was trying to be conscientious of your identity,” Force Majeure admitted, quickly glancing towards me.
Glow’s mom…Sarah just laughed, though it was a bitter laugh. “After what happened last month, any secret identity I ever had, has been well and truly destroyed.”
Force Majeure nodded at that, though he had a rather dark expression. At that moment, I really wished I could read his mind, because I bet there was an interesting story there, one that might help save Falkner. Then, I glanced to Sarah, realizing that since she wasn’t an active member of the team anymore, she might not have that magic protection from mind reading. However, before I could verify that, Force Majeure started coming towards us.
“You know that Miss Martinez is too young to recruit,” he said, looking to Twist. I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.
“Yeah,” Adonis agreed, staring at me with an expression that made me want to cover myself up even more than I already was. “Definitely underage. You need to throw her back for a couple more years.”
“He doesn’t have X ray vision or anything, does he?” I whispered to Glow.
“Not as far as I know,” Glow responded wryly.
“I can’t stay the youngest member of the team forever,” Twist responded in a cheerful tone. Then, a little more seriously, she added, “No recruitment attempt here. Just showing our appreciation, and helping Nina figure out her powers a bit more.”
Glow leaned over and whispered in my ears, “Some seem more appreciative than others.” She glanced to Adonis, who was back to sipping on his drink and reading his magazine, seemingly forgetting about me entirely.
“Come on,” Twist said, gesturing for me to follow. “I’ll give you the nickel tour…”
“It should be fresh in your mind,” Glow commented wryly. “I mean, you just barely got it yourself.”
Twist chuckled, then began leading Glow and I down another hallway, while Sarah and the Bronze Lady remained behind with the others. The tour was pretty basic, and there were a lot of areas that I wasn’t cleared for, or at least, that was the impression I got. That wasn’t surprising though, since it would be silly to show all your secret stuff to anyone who just happens to show up. But on the other hand, those secret areas were probably ones I should look into, considering that was the whole reason I was here and all.
Eventually, we arrived at a large gym like room, where the Gentleman, Bronze Lady, and Sarah were already waiting. Glow immediately excused herself, then hurried through another door, leaving me with the four heroes. Or three heroes, and one former hero.
“This is one of our training rooms,” Twist told me. “I figure, this will be the perfect place to work with your powers.”
The Bronze Lady said, “I fear that we aren’t equipped for proper power testing, but we shall attempt to do what we can for now.”
“We should be able to manage some of the basics,” the Gentleman commented as he leaned on his cane.
By ‘the basics’, the Gentleman meant that they were going to have me show off what I could do, and then see if I could do other things. I started by showing off my telekinesis, then pulling it in real tight so that it became a PK shell, and I could levitate up in the air. That seemed to interest them more than anything.
It was around this point that Glow returned, though she’d changed clothes and was now wearing a blue and grey costume, that covered everything from her neck down. If I hadn’t known otherwise, I would have assumed that she was a superhero too, because she certainly looked the part.
“Cool costume,” I told Glow.
“It seemed appropriate,” she responded, glancing at the other people present, who were already in costume.
Now, I was feeling a little self-conscious, because other than Sarah, I was the only one who wasn’t wearing some sort of costume. And since she was currently nearly eight feet tall, her dressing ‘normal’ didn’t really count.
“We still have some more testing to do,” the Gentleman commented. “I believe telepathy is next.”
“Unfortunately, I know little about telepaths or how to test that ability,” the Bronze Lady said, looking at the others. The Gentleman had a look of agreement as he shook his head, while Sarah just shrugged.
“I had a telepath on my training team back at Whateley,” Twist offered, giving me a curious look. “I’m no expert, but I picked up a few things about how the power works.”
Twist had me try a few exercises, then tested my range, which largely meant that I had to see if I could read her thoughts, as she moved further and further away from me. Of course, all I got from her was static, but I could feel the static getting fainter and fainter, until she reached my max range and then cut off entirely.
Once we were done with that, Twist pulled out a deck of cards and we played the ‘guess which card’ game, as she tried to see if I could guess what the next card would be, without seeing it. I’d actually done this before, right after I first manifested, so I knew exactly what she was up to. She was trying to see if I had some kind of ESP power to go along with my telepathy and telekinesis. The answer to that, was a big fat no.
Next, the Bronze Lady and the Gentleman took their turns with me, though they were trying to see if I might be a devisor or magic user. The Bronze Lady gave me some kind of weird devise, and a pile of parts, and waited to see if I could do anything with them. Then, the Gentleman did a bunch of magic stuff, and tried to see if I could do anything too. Again, each of those tests resulted in a big fat no. In fact, the ‘no’ was so big and fat, that it reminded me of Miguel’s head.
When we were finished with all the tests, the Bronze Lady told me, “Unfortunately, we have neither the resources nor the proper experience to provide any further testing, or at least, not any of serious consequence. However, from what you’ve told us, and what we’ve seen here, it looks like you are probably some form of unbalanced Package Deal Psychic.”
“Unbalanced?” I asked in surprise, and feeling a little insulted. “Are you calling me crazy or something?”
“No,” Twist quickly assured me.
“Yes,” Glow responded with a smirk.
Twist rolled her eyes. “What the Bronze Lady means, is that most Package Deal Psychics have telepathy, telekinesis, and esper abilities in one form of another. Basically, these powers all share the same power source, so you can only use one of them at a time.
“Your telekinesis seems to be fairly strong,” Sarah added, surprising me a little since she’d just been watching most of the testing in silence. “You’ve got general telekinesis and you can shift that over to becoming a PK supergirl. You do have telepathy, but from what I can tell, it doesn’t compare to your TK abilities as far as strength goes, and you don’t seem to have any esper abilities at all. Your abilities seem…unbalanced as far as their strength goes.”
“Precisely,” the Bronze Lady said, nodding in agreement. “In fact, the only reason we have to believe that you are a Package Deal Psychic, rather than just being a combined telepath and telekinetic, is that you can only use one of those at a time.”
The Gentleman stared at me, scratching his chin thoughtfully. “Psychic abilities are not my specialty, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.”
“You always do, dear,” the Bronze Lady said, giving him an amused look.
The Gentleman adjusted his collar for a moment, taking a few seconds to compose himself. “It’s possible,” he finally explained, “that the young lady’s powers were retarded by her burnout, or conversely, that their unusual condition is the cause of the burnout. Either way, there is always the possibility that her powers may be incomplete, and might potentially develop further in the future.”
“Did you hear that?” Glow asked me. “You might develop ESP.”
Twist nodded at that, giving me a thoughtful look, musing, “I used to have a roommate who was an esper. She wasn’t a very powerful one, but given enough time, she could learn just about everything about a person. The kinds of things she could learn with that power, was a little scary at times.”
The Bronze Lady looked at me and said, “I strongly recommend that you receive proper testing, at an accredited facility, with more experienced testers. Your abilities are unusual enough that you should see professionals to better understand them, and learn how they may interact with your implants.”
“Sure,” I replied with a grin. I was already looking forward to getting some real power testing, now that I had my my powers back.
“Now, how about some fun?” Glow asked.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked curiously.
She grinned, and suddenly disappeared in a flash of blue light. A moment later, she appeared on the other side of the room, only to teleport again. When she reappeared, she was surrounded by a blue glow, which seemed to flow down to her hands, where it formed into a katana made of glowing blue energy.
“We spar,” Glow announced.
“Awesome,” I exclaimed, impressed by the sword. However, a moment later, I realized one small problem. “I don’t really know how to fight with my powers…”
“We’ll watch and make sure things don’t go too far,” Twist offered. “Think of this as practicing with your powers.”
“Do you practice like this very often?” I asked Glow.
“Fairly often,” she responded with a shrug. “Twist is sort of my mentor, and she’s been helping me get better with my powers.”
I felt a little jealous of Glow, and wished that I had a mentor to help me. So far, most what I did know about how to use my powers, was all trial and error. I could really use someone to help me figure out my powers.
“Well,” I reminded myself. “That’s what this is…”
With that, I focused on my telekinetic power and pulled it up close to me, so I had a PK shell. Then, I floated up into the air, where I hovered dramatically before flying right at Glow. She teleported away right before I reached her.
“You’ve got to do better than that,” Glow taunted me from the other side of the room.
Suddenly, Glow appeared beside me, and fired a blast of blue energy right into my chest. It tickled a little, but didn’t hurt. I grinned smugly and then tried to grab her, though she teleported away.
“Okay,” Glow said, watching me with a serious expression that was just a bit intense. Okay, it was seriously intense and scared me just a little. “You’re tough enough to take a little more.”
Before I could do anything, Glow teleported to the other side of me and suddenly threw some glowing blue throwing stars at me, right before teleporting again. Only one of the throwing stars hit me, and to my relief, it didn’t hurt.
“Her PK shell seems pretty solid,” Sarah commented. “But Rachael is keeping her in a defensive position.”
“Yeah,” Twist agreed. “If Nina drops that shell, she’s toast.”
Glow came at me several more times, doing hit and runs with her power. I got sliced with a glowing sword, hit with another blue energy blast, and even punched. None of that got through my PK shell.
Unfortunately, Sarah was right, in that I was stuck playing defense. Glow couldn’t hurt me, but I wasn’t fast enough to do anything to her. I kept flying at her, but she’d just teleport away. After about twenty minutes of this, I hadn’t been able to lay a finger on her even once.
“I think that’s enough, for now,” Twist said, calling our game to a stop.
I glared at Glow, frustrated at not being able to do anything. However, she seemed to be in a good mood.
“You’ll get a lot better with practice,” she promised me.
“I hope so,” I grumbled.
“Not bad, for a novice,” the Bronze Lady told me with a reassuring smile. “It takes time and practice to truly master your powers, much less learn to fight effectively with them.”
“Would you girls like a snack?” Sarah asked. “I brought some snickerdoodles.”
Glow’s eyes seemed to light up at that, even more than normal. From the look on her face, I guessed she really liked those cookies.
It was about an hour after this, that I left Liberty Island on the trithopter, and going back to Milwaukee. By this point, I’d had so much fun, that I’d almost forgotten the real reason I was hanging out with these heroes. Almost.
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Saturday afternoon, Sept 22nd, 2007
I stood out in front of the mall, nearly bouncing with excitement. I hadn’t been into a mall, in like, forever.
This was where I’d agreed to meet up with Glow. Of course, I knew that Glow’s real name was Rachael, and she’d even asked me to call her by that name. But since I knew her as Glow first, and her hair and eyes glowed so noticeably, it was hard to think of her as anything but Glow.
Then, I finally saw Glow walking towards me, right on time. However, she wasn’t alone, not that I’d really expected her to be. Dinah was with her, and so was another girl, who appeared to be the same age as Glow and me.
“Hey, Nina,” Glow called out to me, as though I might somehow miss her. She was wearing a hoodie with the hood up to hide her hair, but I could still see some of her glowing hair from beneath it.
“Hola,” I greeted Glow and Dinah with a grin, before turning my attention to the newcomer. She was cute and slender, with a natural tan and short dark hair that was in a pixie cut, not too different from the way my own hair had been for the last few years.
“This is my best friend, Mel,” Glow introduced the other girl, who gave a nod and smile. “I haven’t seen her in a couple weeks.” A moment later, she gestured at me and continued, “And this is Nina.”
“I think I figured that out, when you called her Nina,” Mel responded wryly, making me grin.
“Nina is a cyborg,” Dinah offered with a grin.
Mel gave me a look of surprise and sudden interest. “Really?”
“Oh yeah,” I responded with a grin. “I’ve got a prosthetic spine and everything.”
Dinah’s grin widened. “You’ve got to show her…”
I rolled my eyes, then turned around and pulled my shirt up, just enough so they could see my lower back. The metal implants running along the entire length of my spine were visible, or at least, the lower parts were. Still, from Mel’s gasp, I knew that it was impressive looking.
“Prepare to be assimilated,” I announced cheerfully. “Resistance is futile.”
“That isn’t contagious, is it?” Mel asked, giving me a concerned look.
I shook my head at that. “Nope.” Then I paused for a moment before admitting, “Well, I don’t think it is. I mean, I’m not the expert or anything…”
Mel took a half step back, before Dinah began giggling. “Chicken,” Dinah teased the girl.
“Nina saved Adonis,” Glow told Mel. “Or at least, she warned everyone about a guy, who’d been about to shoot him in the back.”
“Pity,” Mel responded in a flat tone, which showed her own dislike of Adonis.
It probably said a lot about Adonis, that he had a lot of girls gushing over how handsome he was, but none of the ones who actually knew him, seemed to like the guy. I mean, I’d barely met him, but he kind of gave the impression of being a total jerk. He hadn’t even thanked me for what I did, so I didn’t feel the least bit guilty for spying on him for Falkner. Just for spying on everyone else.
Unfortunately, that line of thought reminded me that I was supposed to meet up with Falkner again this afternoon, so I could tell him everything I’d learned about the Liberty League. I hadn’t really learned a whole lot, but hopefully, it will be enough to buy him a little more time. As it was, while I was doing this, he was already trying to find a way of making the money, like getting customers for his implant process.
“So, what are we gonna do?” Dinah asked, breaking me out of my thoughts.
“How about a movie?” Mel responded, gesturing to the large mall theater. “The new Resident Evil is out, and that should be fun…”
Dinah looked at Glow, grinning kind of evilly as she did. “How about a nice romantic comedy. You like chick flicks now, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Mel agreed, also giving Glow an odd look, “You need to catch up on all the great romantic comedies…”
“No way,” Glow insisted, crossing her arms and giving her friend and sister a defiant look. “No chick flicks for me.”
Mel and Dinah both began to laugh, which really made me curious about what was going on. I was really tempted to read their minds in order to find out, but I was starting to think of Glow as a friend, and it would probably be super rude to read her mind.
“Um, can we NOT do a movie?” I asked a little awkwardly. After three years of sitting on my butt, I was completely done with that. “I’d rather walk through the mall and check out the shops.”
“That sounds good to me,” Dinah agreed.
“I’m not a big fan of shopping,” Glow admitted with a sigh. “But sure. Why not?”
“Yeah,” Mel responded. “I still haven’t had a chance to go shopping with you yet. At least not since…” She gave me a quick glance, then cut off with what she was saying, once again making me curious about what they were keeping from me.
The four of us went into the mall and began walking around, checking out any shop that caught our interests, though none of us bought much. Falkner had given me a little spending money, but not a lot. Considering his current situation, it wasn’t like he had a lot of money to give away.
Eventually, we ended up in the food court for lunch, much to my delight. I went around in circles, checking out each of the restaurants three times before I could decide what I wanted to eat. The Mexican place had cheap stuff, that wouldn’t be anywhere near like what my grandma makes, but it had been so long since I had an enchilada… But, it had been just as long since I’d had a chili dog, or even fish and chips, though I finally chose a gyro, just so I could get some baklava to go with it.
“It must be kind of weird, hanging around a bunch of superheroes all the time,” I commented while we ate, trying to get anything I could, that would help Falkner.
“It’s…a pretty recent thing,” Glow said with a scowl.
“But your mom is a hero,” I pointed out, a little confused.
Dinah snorted. When I looked at her, Glow quickly explained, “We live with our dad. Mom…wasn’t exactly around much.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Dinah pointed out, sounding a bit resentful.
Since I didn’t know what else to say, I commented, “Twist seems kind of cool…”
“She is,” Dinah agreed.
Glow just smiled wryly, and told me, “Twist is sort of my mentor. She’s been teaching me how to use my powers better.”
I couldn’t help but still feeling a little jealous of Glow again. After all, I could use help to figure out my powers too.
“She also took Mom’s place on the team, when Mom decided to quit,” Dinah added.
“So,” Mel said, giving me a curious look. “What about you? I mean, I know you’re some kind of cyborg and all, but how in the world did that happen?”
For a moment, I just bit my lip, wondering how many more times I’d have to explain this. Then, with a shrug, I repeated the story, “I manifested as a mutant about three years ago, but then, I went into a burnout and it totally fried my nervous system. I mean, I was completely paralyzed…”
There was a look of shock and horror on Mel’s face. “That sounds…rough.”
“It sucks,” I stated emphatically. “Imagine, not being able to do anything but BLINK for three years…” I paused at that and let the image seep in. “Then, about a month and a half ago, this guy…a devisor shows up, and says he can fix me. And he did. I mean, he used these techno-organic implants and sort of replaced most of my nervous system.” I showed the implants on the back of my hands. “It looks kind of freaky, but I can move again, so yay me.”
“Wow,” Dinah said with a visible shudder.
“And what are your powers?” Mel asked, staring at me eagerly.
That was an opening I couldn’t resist, so with a bit of concentration, a couple of fries levitated up from Mel’s tray and floated over to mine. Her eyes went wide, while I just grinned and ate my stolen fries. I really wished that I’d been able to do this while I’d been paralyzed, because then, at least I would have been able to use the remote control.
“We think she’s some kind of package deal psychic,” Glow explained. “She’s got a couple telekinetic tricks, and she can read minds.”
“You read minds?” Mel asked, suddenly looking a little nervous.
It was pretty obvious that there were some things she didn’t want me to know. In fact, all three of the girls had things that they didn’t want me to know, but I was too nice and polite to read their minds. Even if I really wanted to. After all, reading your friends like that was no bueno.
“I’m not very good at it,” I said, mostly to reassure her. “And most of the time, I don’t even have it on. I prefer to keep my PK shell up when I can. It feels…safer.”
“I can understand that,” Glow told me with a serious expression. “There are times that I would have given anything for something like a PK shell…”
Glow’s expression seemed to darken as I watched, as did Dinah and Mel’s. Finally, unable to bear the curiosity anymore, I shifted back over to my telepathy, just for a second. I wasn’t going to try reading their minds, but if they were thinking something loud enough, I couldn’t be blamed for overhearing, or at least, that was what I told myself. However, as soon as my telepathy was on, I caught a flash of images from Glow, ones of pain and suffering.
“Yike,” I cried out, nearly falling out of my chair in my shock and confusion.
I instinctively shifted back to my PK shell to protect myself from those images, and fortunately, I cut my telepathy off in the process. For several seconds, I just sat there, feeling dazed and confused. Then, I realized the others were staring at me.
“Sorry,” I blurted out, feeling teary-eyed as I stared at Glow. What in the world had she been through to have that in her head? “I didn’t mean to pry, but you were thinking so loud…”
Glow gave a faint smile, which was obviously forced. “I told you that my head isn’t a nice place.” Then she let out a sigh. “But it’s a lot better than it used to be.”
Thanks to my little outburst, the mood had changed, and not in a good way. Glow still looked kind of grim and Dinah gave me a cold look, obviously blaming me for this.
“I saw a cookie kiosk back that way,” Mel abruptly announced, gesturing down the main hallway. “Why don’t we go get some?”
Glow’s eyes lit up, even more than normal, and she began to grin again. “Snickerdoodles, here I come…”
That seemed to have been just the thing to turn the mood back around, much to my relief. A minute later, we were rushing across the mall, going straight for the cookies.
Eventually, it began getting kind of late, and it was time for me to take off. I still had to meet up with Falkner, though I rather would have stuck around with my new friends for a bit longer.
“I’ll see you guys later,” I said, waving to them as I left.
I felt a surge of guilt, though I tried not to let it show. I was just thankful that none of them could read minds the way I could, or I’d really be in trouble.
“Just a little bit longer,” I told myself as I caught the bus. “Soon, Falkner will be safe, and I won’t have to lie to Glow or Dinah anymore…”
Unfortunately, I’d gotten a bit carried away and was running late. I was probably going to be a few minutes late for our meeting, but that wouldn’t be a big deal. Or at least, it wouldn’t have been, if the bus hadn’t broken down. Between that, the time it took for the new bus to arrive, and the traffic, by the time I actually reached Falkner’s motel room, I was over an hour late.
“Sorry I’m late,” I called out as I approached the door. The door was wide open, so I was pretty sure Falkner would be able to hear me. “The bus broke down and…”
I rushed through the door, expecting to see Falkner, and I did. However, instead of standing in the middle of the room, or sitting comfortably in a chair while waiting for me to show up, he was sprawled out on the floor, right next to the wall. There was a huge dent in the wall above Falkner, and most of the furniture was broken and scattered.
“Falkner,” I cried out in shock and horror.
A couple seconds later, I was kneeling down beside Falkner, trying to feel his pulse. However, from the angle of his head, I already knew that I wouldn’t find one. Tears ran down my cheeks as I desperately reached out with my telepathy in the vain hope of hearing his thoughts. There was nothing.
“No,” I whimpered, feeling like my heart was clenching up painfully in my chest. “No…”
This was the man who’d fixed me…who’d given me back my life and freedom. I’d promised to pay him back, to help him deal with this supervillain, and I’d failed. I hadn’t been able to help him at all.
For several minutes, I remained where I was, crying over Falkner’s body. Then, it finally dawned on me that he’d been murdered, and if anyone found me there, they’d think that I did it. And just as bad, was the sudden fear that the villain who’d done this might come back.
With that, I gave a silent apology to Falkner, then hurried out the door as fast as I could. A few seconds later, I broke out running, knowing that I had to get away.
Milwaukee Wisconsin, Sunday morning, Sept 23rd, 2007
Last night was cold, wet, and miserable. And scary. It was really really scary.
After I’d found Falkner’s body, I’d run away in terror, not knowing where I could possibly go. I couldn’t go back to my own motel room, because it was just a few doors down from where Falkner had been killed, and whoever killed him, might have come looking for me there. Because of that, I spent the entire night looking for a place where I could stay warm and dry, and getting a taste of what it was like to be homeless.
I’d found a spot in an alley behind a store, that was nice, dry, and out of the weather. Unfortunately, it turned out, that this wasn’t as good a spot as I’d first thought. A couple drunk guys came through and saw me, then decided to have a little ‘fun’. Fortunately, with my powers, they hadn’t been able to hurt me at all. One of them even pulled a knife, but it couldn’t get through my PK shell, so I just pushed him into his friends and ran away.
Now, I’d survived a night of living on the streets of Milwaukee, and I REALLY didn’t want to have to do that again. Fortunately, I’d had time to calm down and think about my situation. I was in deep doo doo, but fortunately, I just happened to know some superheroes.
“Idiota,” I muttered to myself, slapping my forehead and wondering why I hadn’t thought about calling the Liberty League last night. Then with a snort, I reminded myself, “Probably because I’d have to tell them everything…”
I didn’t exactly know the Liberty League’s phone number, but I had the next best thing. I had Glow’s phone number. With shaking hands, I dialed her number, and silently prayed that she was awake.
“Hello,” Glow’s voice came from the other end a few seconds later.
Letting out a breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding, I blurted out, “I’m in really big trouble… I think a supervillain might be after me…”
Our conversation was short, and probably confusing for Glow since I was still scared and had a hard time explaining what was going on. However, we still managed to agree that we’d meet up, so I could try explaining in person.
As soon as I hung up, I flew towards where Glow and I had agreed to meet. Actually, I couldn’t control my powers well enough to fly for very long, so it was more like making a lot of long hops until I reached my destination. Once I was there, I didn’t have to wait a whole lot longer before Glow showed up, suddenly appearing in a flash of blue. Normally, I would have been really impressed by her teleporting, but not at that moment.
“Nina,” Glow greeted me with a worried look. “What’s going on?”
“A supervillain killed Falkner,” I exclaimed in a rush. Tears were running down my cheeks again. “At least, I think it was the supervillain, though I didn’t see him.”
“Wait,” Glow told me. “Falkner? The devisor who fixed you?” When I nodded, she repeated, “Someone killed him?”
With an emphatic nod, I repeated, “That supervillain loan shark murdered him, because I didn’t help him fast enough…” At this point, I was in a near panic again, terrified that this villain would come after me next. “Falkner saved me, and they killed him…”
Glow stared at me for a moment, seeming both worried and confused. “Slow down a little,” she told me in a firm voice. “Tell me what’s going on.”
I took several deep breaths to try calming down again, then, I hesitantly repeated what Falkner had told me about how he’d borrowed money from a supervillain in order to fund his work, and how the villain called in the loan. Glow listened with a scowl, which only grew deeper when I shamefully admitted my own part.
Once I was finished, Glow just stared at me with a grim expression. “You were spying on us…”
“I was trying to save Falkner,” I protested weakly. “It was the only thing we could think of…”
Glow didn’t respond to that. Instead, she glared at me, with an expression that that radiated hurt, anger, and betrayal. But as bad as that was, it was nothing compared to the look she gave me next. Her expression turned cold, hard, and…terrifying.
“I’m sorry,” I said tearfully. “I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone…”
“Go,” Glow ordered me.
At that moment, my new friend, or was that former friend, was giving me a look that clearly said she wanted to hurt me. I took an instinctive step back.
“But…,” I started, though I didn’t know what I could say to make this better. I’d come to her for help, but now, it was obvious that she wasn’t going to help me, and I was pretty sure, that none of the Liberty League would. I was on my own. “Glow…”
“GO!” she commanded more forcefully, the blue glow in her eyes blazing more brightly.
For a moment, I remained where I was, thinking that I could explain myself to Glow, that I could make her see that I didn’t have any choice. However, the look in her eyes convinced me otherwise. I really was on my own.
With tears running down my cheeks, I turned and ran away. Then, I remembered my powers and activated my PK shell, lifting myself up off the ground and flying away, at least for a short distance before I couldn’t hold it anymore and came back down.
Once I’d left Glow a couple blocks behind, I finally stopped, landing on top of a building where I felt that I had a little privacy. Then, I collapsed to my knees and just cried myself dry, realizing that not only had I lost Falkner, but also my new friends.
I had no idea how long I stayed there, crying and feeling sorry for myself. I was scared, confused, and lost, with no idea of what to do next.
Eventually, my phone began to ring. For a moment, I felt hopeful that Glow wanted to apologize, or to at least talk. But then, I saw that the call was from Mary.
“Hello?” I answered quietly, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
“Nina,” Mary gasped from the other side, sounding relieved. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” I responded weakly. “But Falkner…”
“I know,” she said with a deep sigh. “I heard about what happened with him, and I was worried about you.”
I hesitated for a couple seconds, not sure what to say. “I found him… I found him dead, and when I tried going to the heroes…” After pausing for several seconds, I admitted, “They won’t help…”
There was another long pause from Mary’s side, before she said, “We should meet up and discuss what to do next. You should come here… It’s safe…”
“Okay,” I agreed, relieved that at least there was one person I could count on to help.
After Mary gave me the address, I hung up the phone and began making my way there. I didn’t know Milwaukee very well, and had absolutely no idea where that street was. Fortunately, if you ask, the internet can provide. Yay maps.
Even with my sort-of flying, it took me half an hour to reach the address that Mary had given me. It was a hotel, that looked quite a lot nicer than the motel room I’d stayed in. But I guessed, Mary was probably paying for it herself too.
I went to the room number that Mary provided and nervously knocked. When the door opened and revealed Mary, I let out a sigh of relief.
“Nina,” she exclaimed, grabbing me into a hug and then pulling me inside. “I’m glad to see you’re all right…”
“Me too,” I responded. “I mean, I’m glad that you’re all right…”
Mary gave me a gentle smile, though it was definitely on the sad side. “Did you see what happened?”
“No.” I shook my head. “But Falkner and I were gonna meet up, so I could tell him everything I learned about the Liberty League, but the bus broke, and there was really bad traffic, so I got there late…” I shuddered at that. “If I hadn’t been late… If I’d been there, I might have been killed too…”
Of course, there was also the fantasy that if I’d been there, I might have been able to use my powers to save him. However, I was realistic enough to know that even though I had powers, I probably wouldn’t have been able to beat a real supervillain. Heck, I couldn’t even beat Glow when we’d been sparring.
“Why don’t you sit down,” Mary told me, gesturing towards the couch in the living room area of her suite, “and I’ll fix you up some cocoa.”
I sat down, feeling the energy go out of my body as I did so. Since I didn’t sleep very well last night, if at all, I was ready to curl up and nap. Unfortunately, I was also too keyed up from everything going on to fall asleep, even if I tried. It was a weird mixed-up feeling.
A couple minutes later, Mary came out of the kitchenette with a pair of mugs and set one down in front of me. I immediately picked it up and began to blow on the cocoa before taking a sip. It was tasty. Not as good as my grandma’s, because she always liked to sprinkle a little cinnamon and sometimes even a touch of cayenne for spice, but it was still good.
“Now, tell me what happened,” Mary said.
After taking a long sip of the cocoa, I told her all about going to see Falkner and finding his body. Tears started to form, though I felt strangely calm and relaxed. Then, I told her about how I’d run away and had spent the night in the street.
“You poor thing,” Mary said, giving me a sad smile.
“It was really really scary,” I said, pausing to let out a long yawn. My eyelids felt really heavy, so I closed them for just a moment.
Then, as I began falling asleep, I vaguely heard Mary say, “Such a waste. If only you’d been there on time, she probably wouldn’t have killed Gerald.”
Wisconsin, Monday Sept 24rd, 2007
I was in a hotel room, or at least that was my first impression of the place where I’d woken up. There was a big comfy bed, a dresser with a TV on top, and even a desk. Off to the side, there was a bathroom with a shower. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that something was really wrong.
When I tried to leave, the door was locked. In fact, not only was it locked, but it was metal, with some kind of weird keyboard lock thing built into the wall beside it.
“Um, not good,” I said in annoyance.
And then, when I opened the curtains so I could check the window, I found that there was no window, just more wall. This place looked like a hotel room, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t.
“Where am I?” I asked in confusion, and a bit of growing fear. “How did I get here?”
The last thing I remembered before waking up here, was talking with Mary. I gulped at that, hoping that she was all right.
While I was trying to figure out what was going on, and what I should do about it, the door suddenly began to open. I jumped in surprise, especially when I saw the figure that stepped through.
There was a woman, with shoulder length black hair. However, the thing that really caught my attention was that she was wearing a purple and white costume, with a long purple cape.
“Who are you?” I demanded. Then I gulped, suddenly realizing something. “You’re the villain who killed Falkner…”
“My name is Paradigm,” the woman said, sounding almost friendly. “And yes, I am called a villain by those who don’t understand what I am attempting, or who are invested in maintaining the status quo.”
I took a step back, watching her closely, though she didn’t make any threatening moves. “Where’s Mary?”
Paradigm smiled faintly, as though amused. “Mary is currently relaxing at the spa I sent her to.” At my look of disbelief, she said, “Mary works for me, and has for the last two years.”
I gasped at that, unable to believe that Mary could possibly work for this supervillain. Mary was my friend, and had been really nice to me during my treatment. “You’re lying…” However, I couldn’t help but remembering that the last thing I’d done before waking up here, was talking to Mary.
“No,” Paradigm responded in a pleasant tone. “I’m not lying. I asked Mary to keep a close watch on Falkner and his work, so I could see how my investment was progressing.”
My eyes widened at that. Mary was working for Paradigm… She’d been spying on Falkner the entire time. As I thought about it, my stomach knotted up, and I realized that this sense of betrayal was probably what Glow felt when I’d told her.
“Why…?” I started, before remembering that I could probably learn more simply from reading Paradigmn’s mind. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t feel bad about doing that to a supervillain. However, when I tried, I got the same thing as when I tried to read any of the Liberty League. Static.
“You are only wasting your time,” Paradigm said, looking me a patient expression. “I’ve spent years dealing with someone who had the ability to manipulate minds, so I’ve long since taken precautions to protect myself. You’ll find that I’ve also taken similar precautions on this guest room. You won’t be able to break through the walls. At most, you’ll merely destroy the furnishings, and then you’ll be left with nothing to sleep or sit on. I don’t recommend that.”
With a gulp, I nervously looked around. Until that moment, I hadn’t even considered using my telekinesis to break out of here. Now, I felt like fool for not thinking of it before now. But in my own defense, it wasn’t like I’d had a lot of time to think things through before Paradigm showed up.
Paradigm stared at me for several long seconds before saying, “I imagine that you’re wondering why I killed Falkner, and why you are here…”
“You could say that,” I responded, watching her warily. She seemed immune from my telepathy, but maybe my telekinesis or PK powers would work on her. “I just figured it’s because you’re a supervillain.”
“Yes,” Paradigm responded, actually rolling her eyes. “A title given to anyone who wants to change this failed and corrupt status quo…”
There was something in her tone, which for the first time since I’d seen her, actually came off as scary. She had an intense look in her eyes, and at that moment, I really wished I could read her mind to see what she was thinking, but at the same time, I was kind of glad I couldn’t.
“Several years ago,” Paradigm abruptly said, once again looking friendly, as if she was my gringo aunt or something, “I loaned a great deal of money to Gerald Falkner. At the time, I saw a lot of potential in his technology, even if it was devisor based. Being able to heal damages spines and cure paralysis… This could have improved the lives of many people…”
I gave Paradigm a suspicious look. “That sounds really nice of you.”
With a faint smile and an even fainter nod of acknowledgement, the villain admitted, “At the time, I also considered this an investment into achieving my own goals. If this process would one day allow me to override a person’s nervous system, and use it to control them like a puppet, that would have been useful to me. However, Falkner was less than interested in pursuing that line of research, and admittedly, controlling someone’s body was not my preferred method either.”
“Wow,” I said, feeling a little creeped out about the idea that my implants might have been used to turn me into some kind of puppet. I was REALLY glad that Falkner didn’t go that route, because that might have been even worse than being paralyzed.
Paradigm continued, “Then, not long ago, I suffered a…financial setback. My primary headquarters was severely compromised, and I lost a great deal of my assets as a result. Since I needed more funding to rebuild, I ended several of my investments and called in the markers.”
“Falkner,” I nearly whispered. Then I glared at Paradigm. “You killed him…”
“That was his own fault,” Paradigm responded. “I would have preferred him alive. Alive and in my service, working off his debt. Dead, he is no use to anyone.”
“Then why did you kill him?” I demanded.
Instead of answering immediately, Paradigm mused, “He had that silly idea of spying on the Liberty League to delay repaying his financial obligations. Honestly, I have little interest in them or what meager information you might discover. I have successfully stayed out of their reach for quite some time, and will have little trouble continuing to do so. No, what I was interested in, was the fact that he’d acquired a telepath.” She stared at me with an expression that really made me uncomfortable.
I took a nervous step back. “What?”
“I…convinced Falkner to introduce us,” Paradigm explained. “When you were late to our rendezvous, Falkner became increasingly upset, until he finally pulled a gun on me.” With that, the villainess let out a short and bitter laugh. “When I lost my headquarters, the same incident also resulted in my acquiring a great deal more power. Unfortunately, I’m still not completely used to it, and sometimes…overreact. I regret the devisor’s death, but he has nobody to blame but himself.”
I gulped at that, both scared and angry at the same time. Not only had Paradigm murdered Falkner, she went and blamed him for it as well. In spite of her friendly smile, there was something pretty twisted about this woman.
“Why me?” I asked, my voice shaking a little. “Are you going to kill me too?”
“Absolutely not,” Paradigm responded, almost looking offended by that. “You, my dear girl, may be the answer to my prayers...”
All I could say to that was, “Huh?”
“The world is in a great deal of trouble,” Paradigm explained patiently, at least on the surface. The look in her eyes was pretty intense again. “The climate. Overpopulation. Environmental devastation. Economic imbalance. The political, racial, and religious divisions. The people in power are greedy and corrupt, more interested in their own ambitions than in the good of the world, so I have spent years working to fix this.”
“So, let me guess,” I responded, trying to buy myself time to think. “You want to take over the world…”
“Certainly not,” Paradigm responded dismissively. “That would be far too difficult, and even if I managed, I would be forced to spend every waking minute merely trying to consolidate and maintain my control. I would never be able to achieve my true purpose in that situation.”
“And what is your true purpose?” I asked, feeling a little confused.
Paradigm smiled. “As I said, my goal is to fix all the problems of the world. And the best way to do that isn’t by conquering it…but by simply changing the perspectives of those who already control it. Imagine, if I could realign the priorities of those in power, so that solving these problems becomes much more important that profit or power. Imagine, if I can correct the way that these people think. Politicians would vote the way they should. Business leaders would turn their fortunes, and all the resources at their command, to rebuilding the world the way it should be. And religious leaders would decree that interfering with these works is a mortal sin, and that their people must support these works at all costs. Once I can make people think the way they should, then it will be a simple process of remaking the world into what it should be.”
For a moment, I just stood there, staring at Paradigm, trying to make sense of what she said. Then, I began to get a vague idea of what my part in all of that was.
“I can read minds,” I whispered.
“If I know what these people are thinking,” Paradigm said with a faint smirk, “then I can plan accordingly. If I know their darkest secrets, I can use that as leverage. And if I can have their thoughts and perspective changed…” She stared at me intently, and I did NOT like that look in her eyes. “Then I can finally make some real progress…”
“No,” I gasped, realizing what Paradigm wanted me for. She wanted a pet telepath, who would do her dirty work for her. I snarled in anger and desperation, calling up my PK shell. “Vete al infierno…”
Before I could make a single move, Paradigm seemed to glow and radiate power, enough to make my heart jump. I hesitated a second, just long enough for her to reach to her belt and hold up some kind of weird gadget. It looked sort of like a ray gun handle, including the trigger, but without the barrel. I had no idea what that thing was, and that worried me.
“I wouldn’t make any hostile moves, if I were you,” Paradigm told me, her voice once again sounding pleasant and friendly. “This will work much better for both of us, if we keep things nice and friendly.”
“What is that?” I demanded, still looking at the strange gun handle thing.
Paradigm merely smiled, though it wasn’t really a friendly smile. “Remember, I am well aware of Falkner’s techn-organic technology, and I’ve long since acquired a failsafe. It was relatively easy, finding another devisor who could create a countermeasure. Specifically, this devise, which generates an EMP…an electro-magnetic pulse, specifically designed to destroy the techno-organic implants within your body.”
I froze at those words, feeling a cold chill down my spine. “What… What do you mean?”
“I think that you understand exactly what that means,” Paradigm said. “I don’t want to start our working relationship off with any threats though, so I will promise you this. If you help me to the best of your ability, you will be well taken care of. You will have comfortable accommodations, great food, and even trips to the spa. You will live in luxury. But even better than this, is the fact that you will be doing something important. You will be helping the entire world.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding,” I gasped. I wanted to knock her aside and run out, but Paradigm still had that weird EMP thing in her hand.
“Your abilities are not ideal for my purposes,” Paradigm admitted, “but they will still be quite useful in advancing my cause.” Then, she turned and went back through the doorway, pausing for a moment before saying, “I always prefer to use the carrot when possible, but should it be necessary, there is always the stick.” With that, she held up the EMP and closed the door behind her, locking me in that room once again.
For a moment, I just stood there, feeling stunned, confused, and angry. Finally, I let out a howl of frustration and my powers responded. All the furniture near me was knocked back, with the wooden chair actually being flung into the wall, where it shattered. However, I barely noticed that, as I dropped down to my knees and began to cry.
To Be Continued